UK Home Office Stands By Visa And Immigration Changes

UK Home Office stands by visa and immigration changes

16 February 2007
The Guardian

The British government has defended changes to its immigration and visa rules for Indians and other non-European nationals, even as Indian doctors lodged a legal appeal against a London High Court decision upholding the UK's right to treat non-European medics on a par and equally with Europeans.

Mark Sedwill, director of UK Visas, a joint Home and Foreign Office Directorate said, “There will always be changes to immigration rules. It is part of the continuing process to meet new challenges and requirements.”

He defended changes to rules governing the Highly Skilled Migrant Program (HSMP), which is also facing a judicial review because the new criteria are alleged to affect up to 30,000 Indians invited into Britain with a view to settle. It was recently estimated that the HSMP changes affect up to 40,000 immigrants total under the scheme.

Sedwill said, “People who come in under the HSMP and fail to meet the criteria of finding work in that sector will be disappointed, but the changes are to maintain the integrity of the system and make sure that they work in the same sector.”

Meanwhile, the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO)'s legal action team confirmed that Indian doctors had lodged an appeal to contest last Friday's legal ruling, which failed to overturn Britain's decision to decree without consultation or warning that work permit-free visas would no longer be issued to non-European Union doctors.

BAPIO president Ramesh Mehta confirmed that his organization was hopeful the legal appeal would force the department of health, at least temporarily, to treat Indian doctors on a par with Europeans when filling vacancies.

'competitiveness and immigration control'

In a separate development, the Home Office has told lawyers representing the mainly-Indian HSMP Forum, Ltd that it planned to contest its 06 February decision to seek a judicial review of rule changes.

The Home Office said “It is important that those who pass the test at the extension stage are those who will make 'the greatest contribution to the UK economy'.” It added that those in Britain under the HSMP would be entitled to a permanent settlement after completing the qualifying period, but that there was “no guarantee of this”.

The HSMP Forum has previously said: “There could be no greater unfairness than enticing people to come to the UK and to commit their future lives here for the benefit of the UK, only to change the rules under which they entered.”

Sedwill, whose department runs the UK's visa service through overseas British diplomatic missions, insisted, “We want to make sure that people still regard UK as a welcoming destination.”

Admitting that “historical connections with the sub-continent means higher visa applications from there, family visitor category from the sub-continent is still in great demand,” Sedwill said “90% of visa applications in the sub-continent are now dealt with through our commercial partners, 94% of the straightforward visa applications are dealt with within 24 hours, more than 90% of applications which are not straightforward are dealt with within 15 days.”

He insisted that the UK's visa policy had “two twin objectives, competitiveness and immigration control” and added that it was incontrovertible that “immigrants contribute hugely to our economy, 35% of the workforce in the south-east (of England) is foreign-born.”

Europe producing enough doctors now?

Sedwill explained the UK's changes to work-permit training rules for Indian doctors as the result of a changed scenario. He said, “Some time ago, there was a campaign to recruit foreign doctors to work in the NHS, but the scenario has changed now. Local medical colleagues are producing enough doctors, and there doesn't seem to be the need to recruit doctors from outside the EU.”

But Sedwill's words failed to mollify Indian doctors and others affected by the new HSMP rules with many insisting there was a huge gap between the UK government's words and deeds when it comes to immigration and visa issues and it was unfair to apply new rules with retrospective effect as has happened with Indian doctors and HSMP visa-holders.

In response to concerns about changes to HSMP rules with a brand new points-based system, Sedwill said the government was trying to “streamline and simplify immigration laws/rules, and we are introducing a five-tier system”, which is expected to be fully implemented by next year.

He said tier one of the new system would apply to HSMPs “who will still qualify under the points system and won't need a job offer to enter the UK”. But their situation will be reviewed after two years to make sure that they are working in HSM sector and not doing jobs, which fall under other categories, he said. He added that HSMP will continue to be a route to settlement, but the time period for settlement will be increased to five years to bring it on a par with other settlement categories.

Sedwill said tier two of the new scheme applied to skilled migrants with jobs and there were no significant changes to the category, which will continue to be a route to settlement. Tier three, he said, applied to low-skilled workers who could only ever be granted short-term visas and had no route to settlement. He added that the UK expected the “demand for low skilled migrant (to) mostly be met from within the EU” and the decision to grant visas to non-EU low-skilled workers would depend on a number of factors but “no final decision has been made by ministers yet.”

With specific reference to the shortage of cooks for Britain's burgeoning Indian restaurant industry, he added that “low-skilled migration criteria are not based on ethnic background. It would be wrong to do so. Moreover, there are unemployed people in the British Asian community who could be taught those skills to work in the restaurant industry.”

The fourth tier applies to student visas, he said, which largely remain unchanged, except for the welcome decision.